A short time ago, I watched a man die. I held his hand as he breathed his last. I saw his heaving chest grow still and felt his warm skin turn cold. This man was my best friend. This man was my dad.
It’s a phone call you never want to receive, the call that changes everything. I’ll never forget hearing my mom and dad tearfully explain to me that he had cancer. Diagnosed with blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm, an extremely rare form of blood cancer, it was clear that we were facing a very difficult road ahead, one that would most likely end in defeat. The ensuing month brought intense chemotherapy, hospital visits, close calls, and a bald head. All the while a question lingered, “Why is this happening to my dad?”
In the months leading up to May 2014, my dad was in some of the best shape of his life—physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. He had rediscovered a missionary dynamism, which propelled him to numerous coffee dates, email exchanges, reading tons of books, hours of prayer, and even starting a new initiative to help others do the same. While he had been a faithful Catholic for several decades, a renewed experience of the Spirit planted a new fire in his heart. Often our near daily conversations began with Michigan football or the grandkids, but quickly transitioned to the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelization or a discussion about how to bring others to Christ. The love and kindness he naturally possessed for people went even deeper as he strove to understand, love, and lead people to Jesus. He became what Pope Francis called a ‘missionary disciple.’
A disciple is someone who follows the Master no matter the direction or the cost. Leading up to May 28th, 2015 Jesus was clearly leading my dad to eternal life. After a year of fighting to live through more chemo, a clinical trial, and other treatments, Dad realized that it was time to fight for heaven. Having been a highly successful athlete and businessman, he thrived on setting a goal and persevering until it was accomplished. The good goal of earthly life was replaced by the ultimate goal of heaven. As we encouraged him to run to Jesus, the love he had for us was perfected as he drew nearer to Love himself. I’ll never forget the closing moments of his life, as we prayed around his bed. As crazy as it sounds, we began to cheer him on as he ran towards Jesus, towards his Master, towards his Savior, towards the crown of everlasting glory.
Dad’s heart was fully committed to Christ and as he breathed his last, to my surprise my initial reaction was joy! No longer suffering, no longer persevering, Dad was now resting in the arms of the One he loved the most. He accomplished what we all seek to do, run through the finish line of life with dignity, love, and trust in the goodness of God. He truly followed Jesus to the cross and into the grave and we whole-heartedly believe that he’s now experiencing the joy of the resurrection. In the days and months since his death, my initial joy has remained even while I’ve endured many moments of unexpected tears, restless nights, and dealing with a heart that has a very fresh and painful wound. Every day I struggle with questions of ‘why’ and the constant hurt often leads to angrily questioning God’s plan. But the great news of the Gospel and the gift of faith in Christ’s love and salvation allow me to still rest in an incomprehensible joy.
I will always miss my dad, but I couldn’t be happier for him.